Animals (Low Welfare Activities Abroad) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 1:40 pm on 17 March 2023.

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Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

Photo of Angela Richardson Angela Richardson Conservative, Guildford 1:42, 17 March 2023

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The United Kingdom has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and I am proud of the record set by this country and this Government. In recent years, we have taken great strides in improving standards further with important legislation, including the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, the Glue Traps (Offences) Act 2022 and, indeed, the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, which I was pleased to see pass its Third Reading earlier. I congratulate my hon. Friend Henry Smith on his Bill passing to the other House.

I wish once again to bring the attention of the House to the matter of low welfare animal activities in overseas tourism. Currently, there is no statutory provision in England or Northern Ireland to regulate the advertising or sale of animal activities abroad. This Bill will change that. It has been left to individual travel companies to decide whether to promote activities that could include low welfare conditions, such as elephant rides.

ABTA—the largest travel association in the UK, representing almost 4,000 brands, from small independent travel agencies to the household names—has set out guidelines on animal welfare. The guidelines outline three areas—unacceptable practices involving captive animals, unacceptable practices involving animals in cultural events and activities, and unacceptable practices involving free-roaming wild animals—and it encourages travel agents to work with their suppliers to foster good welfare practices. ABTA’s 2022 “Holiday Habits” report highlighted that 70% of travellers cite their holiday’s impact on animal welfare as a concern.

Individual companies have put in place their own policies on the advertising of animal experiences abroad, and I will note a couple of examples. Tripadvisor now prohibits selling tickets to, or generating booking revenue from, specific experiences, including experiences involving physical interaction with animals in captivity and experiences in which wild or endangered animals are forced to perform unnatural tricks or behaviours in front of the public, or are treated as a live circus or entertainment act, to name a few. Expedia Group has also set out its own criteria for animal experiences.

Although I welcome the intention of the ABTA guidelines and the action taken by individual companies, it is important to note that the guidelines remain entirely optional and can be selectively applied. The Bill provides a more uniform, mandatory approach. The scale of animal cruelty in wildlife tourism cannot be overestimated. World Animal Protection’s 2016 report, “Checking out of cruelty,” was the first piece of global research on this issue. The report found that three in four wildlife tourist attractions involve some form of animal abuse or conservation concerns, and that up to 550,000 animals are suffering in these venues. It estimated that approximately 110 million people visit cruel wildlife tourist attractions every year, and that the vast majority of them will be unaware of the poor conditions or abuse to which animals may be subjected once they have returned to their accommodation. It is clear that we need to act on this issue.

The Government’s action plan for animal welfare, published in 2021, recognised that fact and set out their intention to make sure businesses do not benefit from selling attractions, activities or experiences involving the unacceptable treatment of animals. The Bill was introduced in June 2022, after which we had a very patient wait for Second Reading. The Bill has continued its journey through the House over the past two months, and I welcome its swift, unamended progress.

Back in January 2023, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley led an Adjournment debate on the welfare of animals in tourist activities, and it was encouraging to hear supportive contributions from both sides of the House and, indeed, from the Government. The Bill had its Second Reading shortly afterwards, with a similar reception.

Outside the House, the charity Save the Asian Elephants, led by CEO Duncan McNair, handed a petition to No. 10 Downing Street, signed by 1.2 million people, calling for a ban on UK firms marketing holiday venues that specifically exploit elephants. I am delighted to see Mr McNair in the Gallery, supporting this Bill.

The Bill passed Committee just last week. I am extremely grateful to the Members who took time out of their Wednesday morning to support its passage. I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond), for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher), for Henley (John Howell), for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) and for West Dorset (Chris Loder), as well as the hon. Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and for Halton (Derek Twigg), for their support.

Although the Bill does not represent a ban in and of itself, it creates the framework that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, or the Secretary of State acting with their consent, can use to ban the advertisement of tourist activities abroad that infringe upon animal welfare standards. Through secondary legislation, the relevant Departments will be able to introduce species-specific bans, based on collated evidence from industry stakeholders and others, that can be scrutinised in this House.

Although we cannot enforce our laws in other sovereign states, there are actions we can take domestically to protect animals, including by passing this Bill. We can work domestically to steer the market away from promoting these experiences and towards a travel industry that is more conscious of animal welfare, supporting both tourists and suppliers to make more informed decisions about what to buy and offer respectively. By reducing the visibility of low-welfare experiences on our high streets and in brochures, we can encourage different choices for tourists.

It is important to bring the attention of the House to some of the conditions and treatments that animals are subjected to across the industry. A briefing note provided to me in Committee by Save the Asian Elephant and other animal welfare charities put forward 12 recurring themes in the keeping of animals in low-welfare facilities for use in tourism. Animals are taken from the wild, which harms the animal, local wildlife populations and people. Mothers are killed, injured or harmed simply so that their infants can be captured. Breeding mothers are kept and forced to raise their young in low-welfare facilities, as opposed to in the wild. Infants are taken from their mothers far too young. There is a high mortality rate among animals that are in transit or traded. Animals are kept in situations that are unnatural to them, including close captivity, which can be particularly harmful to long-lived species and to those accustomed to a large range in the wild.

Animals are forced to perform unnatural behaviours. The threat of fear, pain or drugs is used to control or train animals. Methods of domination are used to traumatise or subdue them. Animals are closely handled by several untrained people and often they are given no option to retreat. There is a risk of zoonotic disease transmission from animals, particularly when they are used as photo props and handled by large volumes of people. Finally, animals that are no longer used for exhibition are kept in cruel surroundings, or killed before they have reached the natural end of their life. The 12 themes paint a picture of experiences that none of us would wish on an animal in the wild. The legislation will result in fewer animals being treated in that way, by bringing about less consumer demand for experiences based on low-welfare treatment.

Under our own legislation, the conditions that these animals are kept in would be considered unacceptable. Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 outlines the five needs of an animal:

“(a) its need for a suitable environment,

(b) its need for a suitable diet,

(c) its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns,

(d) any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and

(e) its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.”

The activities abroad would fail the test we set ourselves at home, and it is imperative that we do what we can to remedy those animal welfare abuses.

We have sadly seen too many tourists injured or killed by animals that have been kept in low-welfare conditions, including Andrea Taylor, who was killed by an elephant during a ride experience in 2000. Andrea is just one of at least 700 people who have been killed by elephants alone, with a further 900 experiencing sustained catastrophic injuries. Treating animals humanely and properly benefits not only the species themselves but the tourists who wish to see them. The Bill is a first step in a long journey.

There are, of course, ways in which the legislation could go further. As the world of online influencers and click-throughs develop, we should look at the ways we can enhance the legislation. But today we must get the framework in place. I know there will be those who are disappointed that the legislation we send to the other House today will not cover Scotland and Wales. The intentions of the Bill are widely supported, and I hope that Scotland and Wales will join us in legislating against such advertisements soon. I welcome the remarks by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands in the Scottish Government last week, saying she is open to similar proposals being introduced in Holyrood.

To conclude, I take this final opportunity to thank the officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for their continued assistance throughout the process. I thank the Ministers, my hon. Friends Trudy Harrison and Rebecca Pow, for their passionate support of the Bill, as well as every Member who has contributed to the Bill through its Commons journey. I also thank organisations such as Save the Asian Elephant and World Animal Protection for their continued support of the legislation and for providing their research, which has been invaluable. I welcome the cross-party support that the Bill, like other recent private Members’ Bills, has commanded. In that spirit, I hope colleagues across the House will support the Bill. I look forward to seeing its progress in the other place.

Photo of Jane Stevenson Jane Stevenson Conservative, Wolverhampton North East 1:54, 17 March 2023

I am delighted to have the chance to speak in support of this important Bill on behalf of the constituents who write to me so regularly with animal welfare concerns, from squirrels and hedgehogs to polar bears and penguins. We are a nation of animal lovers, and although animal welfare may be a small part of what we do in this place, it is certainly important to a vast number of our constituents.

I commend my hon. Friend Angela Richardson for getting her Bill this far. We cannot control what happens in other countries, but at least the Bill will go a short way towards ensuring that tourists from the United Kingdom are aware of what their experiences are funding. In my previous career, I was lucky to travel extensively, and I saw good and bad examples of this sort of tourism. In Zimbabwe 20 years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the Hwange game reserve, where there were some great conservation activities. I went on an elephant safari while I was in Zimbabwe, and the elephants seemed to be treated extremely well and left to roam wild, but it is important that we know that animals are not being abused.

I know that many colleagues want to speak in support of the Bill and we will soon run out of time in this Session, so I will conclude by backing up what my hon. Friend is doing and by paying tribute to my hon. Friend Henry Smith for his crucial Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, which received its Third Reading this morning. Our party has a lot to be proud of, with all the animal welfare progress that we have made in this Parliament. I also thank the Minister, who I know is an absolute animal lover, like many of us on the Government Benches.

Photo of Aaron Bell Aaron Bell Conservative, Newcastle-under-Lyme 1:56, 17 March 2023

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Jane Stevenson. Today, St Patrick’s Day, has been a very good day for animals around the world. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Angela Richardson for this Bill, and to my hon. Friend Henry Smith for his success with the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill. I was not able to speak on that Bill earlier today, but I put on the record my support for it; I share the hope of the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend George Eustice, that the House of Lords will not hold it up at all. I hope the same for this Bill.

The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Two centuries ago, this House passed the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822; last year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford said, we passed the landmark Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022; and there have been a host of measures in between. We are indeed a nation of animal lovers. I know that my constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme feel strongly about these issues, and the same applies nationally: 72% of respondents to a YouGov poll last May said that they wanted the Government to

“pass more laws designed to improve animal welfare and protect animals from cruelty.”

The Bill, which has rightly received significant cross-party support, builds on the Government’s excellent track record on animal welfare. I pay tribute to the Minister and look forward to her response.

Let me address one issue—I was going to call it the elephant in the room, but that is a terrible, terrible joke. We cannot enforce our laws in other countries. I should make it clear that this Bill will not criminalise Brits abroad who might take an elephant ride, say, but later regret it and realise that perhaps it was exploitative. That is not what the Bill seeks to do; it seeks to prevent the advertisement of such things. The Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley takes a similar approach. I heard with respect the points that my hon. Friend Sir Bill Wiggin made earlier about not trying to be cultural imperialists, but we are entitled to make a stand in this place, and we are entitled to say what we consider it acceptable to advertise and promote in this country.

With the import prohibition on hunting trophies, and with this Bill to ensure that we do not advertise low-welfare activities abroad, we are doing the right thing to stifle the demand that causes such grave animal suffering. The Government are right in their commitment to continue to raise the bar and take the rest of the world with us, just as we set out to do when the action plan for animal welfare was announced. I am very pleased to support both Bills today.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble 1:59, 17 March 2023

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Angela Richardson for her excellent championing of the Bill. Time is against us, so I will raise just two points.

First, I wish to emphasise the cruelty that the Bill seeks to prevent. As the House may know, I worked as a safari ranger—a field guide—in South Africa and Mozambique in 2008. On my time off, I visited a vineyard, only to find two cheetahs, probably drugged, in a cage, being offered to a drunken tourist to pat at 50 quid a pop. That is not their natural environment. I would not like to see that advertised in this country. Perhaps the Minister will say something about that when she responds to the debate, or when the Bill is in Committee—and I thank my hon. Friend again for allowing me to serve on the Committee. I hope we can use the Bill as an opportunity not only to criminalise advertisements that seek to exploit animals but to help educate the public about what animal distress looks like, which may enable them to make positive choices when they are abroad.

May I offer one small suggestion from my previous experience? If you see an elephant with liquid streaming down the side of its face, it will be in musth if it is a bull elephant, but if that is not the cause, it is an incredibly stressed elephant. I have seen pictures advertising elephant rides in which every single elephant has a stream of liquid running down its face because it is so frightened. I say to the Minister and to the British public: please pay attention, because if things do not look right, the animal is probably telling you that they are not.

Photo of Chris Clarkson Chris Clarkson Conservative, Heywood and Middleton 2:00, 17 March 2023

Many Members want to contribute, so I will not speak at length.

I thoroughly welcome this Bill introduced by my hon. Friend Angela Richardson, and I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the personal passion with which she deals with this issue. As has already been said, the British people are animal lovers: this is a country that has a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals but only a National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which tells us everything we need to know.

An important point arose during our earlier debate on the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, tabled by my hon. Friend Henry Smith. There are still advertisements out there showing what is effectively a price list for animal cruelty, which I find staggering in this day and age. Sadly the days when we could legislate for other countries are long gone, but, as we heard from my hon. Friend Aaron Bell, we can make a stand. I think it important for us to send a signal that our British values where animals are concerned are core to our identity, and that we will not stand for this kind of cruelty.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West 2:01, 17 March 2023

It is a great pleasure to be called to speak about this important Bill, and I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend Angela Richardson.

This has been an incredible day for animal welfare, and it has been a privilege to debate two Bills that will help to improve the lives of animals. As a patron of the brilliant Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, a position also held by my much-loved predecessor Sir David Amess, I know of the struggles that animals have had to endure both here and abroad. I pay tribute to the founders of that organisation, Lorraine and Chris Platt—I see Lorraine in the Public Gallery—for the huge amount that they have done to safeguard and raise awareness of animal welfare, both in the UK and abroad. On Wednesday I was privileged to speak at an event connected with their campaign to ban the use of pig farrowing crates in this country, and I hope that that ban will happen very soon. It was also an honour to support, earlier today, the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, tabled by my hon. Friend Henry Smith.

All of us in this place can be proud of the huge strides we have made towards improving the lives of animals in the United Kingdom, and since we have left the European Union we have been able to make even greater progress. The Bill is greatly needed. A quick Google search brings up numerous websites offering elephant rides, which, as we all know, are not a harmless activity. Only last week, the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand released a picture of Pai Lin, a 71-year-old female elephant whose spine has become disfigured after 25 years of working in the tourism industry. Being forced to carry up to six tourists at a time has caused irreversible physical damage to her spine. The Bill will stop companies being able to advertise trips like that, and will, I hope, prevent elephants like Pai Lin from enduring this appalling suffering.

Let me end by saying how proud I am of the animal rights record of successive Conservative Governments and how strongly I support the Bill, and by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford again on bringing it to us today.

Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South 2:03, 17 March 2023

I will be extremely brief. It is an honour to support this Bill, particularly after being able to support the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend Henry Smith, earlier this morning. It was a great pleasure to serve on the Bill Committee, with this whole process having been expertly steered through the House by my hon. Friend Angela Richardson.

I wish to make three quick points. First, the RSPCA has strongly supported the Bill, saying:

“We believe it will advance the cause of animal welfare and could lead to preventing the suffering of millions of animals worldwide.”

Secondly, World Animal Protection supports a ban on the UK advertising, saying that up to 550,000 wild animals a year are suffering for tourists’ entertainment in wildlife attractions worldwide, so this is very important. My third and final point is that as a Welsh MP I hope the Welsh Senedd will follow suit. It is an honour to support this Bill, which will be of great benefit to animal welfare around the world. It has my wholehearted support.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:04, 17 March 2023

Let me start by commending Angela Richardson for bringing the Bill to this stage, and I hope we can get it a quick and successful conclusion and send it on its way. I am grateful to have this second opportunity to progress measures for international animal conservation today, after the earlier Bill from Henry Smith—I hope this one will have the same success. It is a shame, though, that this legislation has to come via a private Member’s Bill. This measure, as well as the one on trophy hunting and many others, was due to be in the animals abroad legislation that was promised to us by the Government, which would have tackled so many different animal conservation issues. It is a shame that we are having to do things this way, through private Members’ Bills, rather than through a rounded approach with a single Government-backed Bill. However, we are where we are and we should persevere with the other issues when we have the opportunity.

Riding elephants, running with wild animals and swimming with dolphins all are part of the human spirit that seeks new thrills, but the wildlife tourism industry is responsible for the exploitation of hundreds of thousands of animals each year: dolphins are forced to live in cramped conditions; big cats are drugged and have their claws pulled off; and elephants are violently mistreated, as we have heard. This problem is an international one, but our citizens and companies are centrally involved with advertising, promoting and selling experiences, usually to unknowing consumers; UK travel companies are complicit in this cruelty, and there are so many examples of cruelty arising from this practice.

The hon. Lady spoke about the 12 themes, so I will not repeat them. However, reducing the effect and occurrence of those themes is surely reason enough to pass this Bill. I have not tabled any amendments, but there are some technical improvements that the Minister should consider so that we do not have loopholes in the Bill. It could include a provision to restrict the defence to those who sell these experiences in the ordinary course of a business or occupation of selling publications; it could extend the definition of “advertisement” to include any material, in any form, that promotes or encourages in any way the observation of, or participation in, a banned activity, and any material referred to in the advertisement or linked to it in any manner; it could give enforcement officers and the courts power to order the publication of correction notices and give power to the Secretary of State to make regulations specifying matters relating to correction notices; and, finally, it could provide a measure on consulting the RSPCA and such other animal welfare organisations as the appropriate national authority thinks fit before activity regulations are made. Although we are not considering those measures now, I hope that the Minister might consider them as we progress and implement this legislation.

The fact that more than 1 million people signed a petition to urge the Government to protect the Asian elephant from the unimaginable cruelty it faces at the hands of the tourist trade shows that there is most definitely an appetite for this Bill. I know that other Members will, like me, have been inundated by correspondence from constituents on this and other similar animal conservation issues, so we know the public are with us. I really want to thank Save The Asian Elephants and Duncan McNair, whom I see in the Gallery. He has provided so much support to me and to others, including the hon. Member for Guildford, as we have progressed this Bill.

Finally, let me say that animal tourism is a diverse industry, and it is important to note that there are many good operators and activities that benefit conservation on offer. I sincerely hope that today ushers in a new era for the industry, with this Bill and the one we have already passed today.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:09, 17 March 2023

I know how important the Bill is to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I am delighted to see you in the Chair.

Today is a tremendous day for animals worldwide. We have been collegiate in this place; I very much appreciate the Opposition’s willingness to work with other Members and me on today’s Bills. We have been incredibly passionate about them. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Angela Richardson, who has put so much hard work and diligence into her Bill.

Let me put on record my thanks to the Members who have contributed to today’s debate: my hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson), for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell), for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher)—she offered her considerable experience—for Southend West (Anna Firth) and for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes). I was grateful to hear the considerations of the Opposition spokesperson, Alex Sobel, and I will endeavour to look at them in more detail and work with the RSPCA, as he suggests.

Currently, the domestic advertising and sale of animal activities overseas is not subject to specific legislation in this country—that is exactly what the Bill will do. As my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford eloquently set out, there is little else to say. Domestic travel agents can advertise and sell any overseas animal activities, no matter the relevant animal welfare standards. We have heard first-hand accounts from Members of just how horrific the conditions can be. In low-welfare establishments, cruel training methods are often used to force animals into submission. That allows tourists to get up close and personal with the animals in the form of riding, bathing or taking selfies, to name just a few examples.

Let me emphasise the Government’s commitment to improving animal welfare standards across the globe. The introduction of domestic advertising and sales bans on low-welfare activities abroad would allow us to continue to lead by example on how animals should be treated in tourist attractions across the world. I hope that by passing the Bill we will emphasise that we should not exploit animals for human entertainment, and show exactly why the UK is a world leader in animal welfare.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford set out, in the 2021 action plan for animal welfare, the Government committed to a number of animal welfare reforms. Several Acts have been passed to address the commitments made in 2021, and more Bills are proceeding through Parliament. The legislation already been passed includes the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, the Animals (Penalty Notices) Act 2022 and the Glue Traps (Offences) Act 2022. Just this morning, thanks to the diligence of my hon. Friend Henry Smith, his Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill was passed. That is tremendous progress.

The framework of this Bill will enable secondary legislation to be introduced to ban the domestic advertising and sale of specific low-welfare activities abroad. Let me emphasise that any ban on the domestic advertising and sale of low-welfare activities would capture the specific species and activity, wherever in the world that took place. For example, a ban on low-welfare Asian elephant activities would relate to unacceptable practices involving Asian elephants as a species anywhere in the world—not solely elephants that live in Asia.

Given the short time available, I want to put on record my thanks to campaigners from Save The Asian Elephants, who are in the Gallery, as well many other organisations globally. I also thank my officials, who work so hard, particularly across the animal welfare spectrum, including on the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill this morning and this Bill. Their diligence and professionalism, going the extra mile day after day, is much appreciated by me, by the entire ministerial team at DEFRA and, I think, by Members across this House. Without that hard work, we would not be in this position today.

In conclusion, I thank everyone for their contributions to this debate, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford. I reiterate this Government’s support for the Bill and wish it well as it progresses.

Photo of Angela Richardson Angela Richardson Conservative, Guildford 2:14, 17 March 2023

With the leave of the House, I would like to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson), for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell), for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher), for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson), for Southend West (Anna Firth) and for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes) for their excellent contributions. I also thank the shadow Minister for his helpful comments on how to improve the legislation and the Minister for her usual brilliant response. It is always important to thank the Public Bill Office for its helpful advice and instruction on progressing the Bill so far. Finally, I want to remark how appropriate it is to have you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, on such an important day for animal welfare.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.